October 21, 2008
Liz published this at 8:20 am
Community Is about Welcoming People In
Most of the kids I grew up with were 2nd generation American, which meant our grandparents spoke a language other than English. Adult immigrants had a hard time learning English. My grandmother, who was born in 1888, never did.
I can only imagine what it was like, knowing that her grandkids couldn’t understand what she was saying . . . Still my grandmother knew how to connect and by the time I was six I was talking with her through gestures, faces, and a tiny Italian vocabulary she gave me. We could spend hours enjoying each other’s company.
I didn’t understood the magic of what she did until I visited her village in Italy. I realized the humanity of my grandmother’s gifts when I felt strangers offer the same sort of welcoming, reaching out. It was a way of life not just a “family thing.”
You could feel from the smiles in their eyes. You could hear it when they said “buona serra” as they walked by. You could see in the flower pots placed outside the windows of every house. I felt welcomed. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know who I was.
In the last 24 hours, I’ve spoken to three people about blogging and social media. All three, in their own way, said they feel as if everyone is speaking another language. They all felt that they didn’t know how to find their way to connect. That’s why I’ve been thinking about what my grandmother did . . .
What My Italian Grandmother Knew about Community Building
My grandmother was born in 1888. Her name was Liza. She knew a lot about people and life. When she came here, she owned a small saloon in a small town in Illinois. Though she had no English — she only knew Italian — every person who came there felt welcomed and most came back.
Her tavern was a living example of a participatory culture. Social relationships and community thrived. I saw these things with my own child’s eyes.
- Welcome! Every time someone walked in the door, her face lit up in a smile. Whether they’d been there before or just arrived, she stop to welcome them as if they’d come home from a long journey.
- See! She had an uncanny way of looking at each person fully and individually in the eyes. It didn’t matter if their words weren’t the same. The attention she gave said how she valued every one of them.
- Smile! She was a woman of joy! Joy is contagious and attractive. My grandmother was a tall, thin 80 year-old woman when I knew her, but until her last day she could make a room glow.
- Listen! Because she didn’t have the words, but often knew what people were saying, my grandmother listened better than anyone I know. That made a person feel like a great communicator and feel like a fine lady had heard.
- Laugh! When she didn’t understand what someone was saying, she would laugh at herself as if words were playing games. Then she’d look for another way to reach out for meaning.
- Ospitalite! Prego! Any person who spent an hour in her saloon couldn’t leave without knowing that those two words meant Hospitality! and Yes, of course! The entire venue was about the people who came. She loved every one of them.
My grandmother wasn’t afraid to build a bridge on the language she didn’t know because she trusted herself to connect in other ways. We can build a bridge to the folks who don’t know social media by taking a clue and some cues from things she did.
Where are you seeing great examples of hospitality and bridge building in our Internet culture? What can we do to help them grow?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz!!